In this post, I want to combine two things that I recently wrote about:
- I wrote that one of the challenges facing illusionist views of consciousness is the experiencer problem: if phenomenal consciousness is an illusion, who or what is experiencing the illusion?
- I briefly wrote about forms of panpsychism, including bottom-up panpsychism (or micropsychism, which has the combination problem) and top-down panpsychism (or cosmopsychism, which has the decombination problem).
Is it possible to somehow combine illusionism and cosmopsychism, such that each of the two views can help make the other more coherent?
In this presentation (PDF warning), Luke Roelofs compares varieties of cosmopsychism and micropsychism, arguing that most forms of cosmopsychism face challenges similar to the challenges faced by micropsychism. However, in Section 5 (“The Maddest Option of All”), he describes one exception: a form of cosmopyschism where there is really only one consciousness, nothing else exists, and there is no decombination problem. “We” are all in that one consciousness. As Roelofs adds, this does require a “massive error theory” about why we seem not to be able to access others’ experiences. But he notes that he thinks this view is probably closest to the truth.
So how does this not only fit with illusionism, but make the case for illusionism stronger? In this cosmopsychist view, there is only one consciousness, and so “Gabriel Murray” and “Luke Roelofs” and “Keith Frankish” are just illusory selves within that consciousness. This view solves the experiencer problem because there is now an experiencer: a single consciousness that contains/experiences these illusory selves. In turn, illusionism solves the decombination problem: there is only one consciousness, and no decombination. Our selves truly are illusory.
This idea does seem compatible with some forms of eastern philosophy where there is a fundamental consciousness but the self is an illusion. Roelofs said the above presentation was informed by the work of Miri Albahari, who seems to have explored this idea of combining cosmopsychism and illusionism (e.g. here and here). I’m adding her works to my reading list.